Thursday, August 7, 2008

On Signature Style and the Artful Outsider

In junior high, I had an entire wardrobe of castoff old men’s blazers and sports jackets. I had a couple that had been my moms in the sixties or seventies, but several came from the thrift store. They had to be tweed to make the cut, but I didn’t care how they fit. On the best days, I’d wear them with jeans or jean skirts (if the skirt was recycled from old jeans, so much the better) and either combat boots or Dr. Martens sandals. You know the ones, clunky, leather and extremely comfortable. Then there was the occasional tartan skirt with the giant safety pins, to be worn with the combat boots, obviously.

In high school, the look evolved into more hippy-prep than preppy-grunge. It was hemp necklaces (which I macraméd myself), crocheted vests, jeans and still the jeans skirts, Dad’s old sweaters (moth holes were a big plus) and floaty dresses when it was hot. The Dr. Marten’s sandals were still in rotation, as were the combat boots, but now there were Birkenstocks too.

Midway through high school, I changed schools. In the neighboring town the kids seemed to have more resources and maybe more exposure. It was definitely more diverse. Which is why I was surprised to find much more homogenized fashions. The groups were very well defined, yet the only ones who really dressed differently were the ones who sat out on the lawn and smoked and played their guitars and stashed their skateboards in the bushes next to the school so they wouldn’t be confiscated. I desperately wanted to belong with them. They had style. It was artful and outsider and unselfconscious, but I was pretty sure there was a secret handshake I didn’t know, so I didn’t try. Everyone else seemed to shop at the same place that I had not yet discovered. I tried to adapt but couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t. I never did nail the Abercrombie & Fitch look. In fact, I didn’t even try for long, but the damage it did to my style equilibrium took years to repair.

Now I’ve been out of school and away from the pressures of dressing to fit in for about a decade, and only in the last couple of years have I figured out what my personal fashion philosophy is.
I have a pretty recognizable look. It varies of course, depending on the occasion and the tides of fashion, but there is a common thread that has turned my taste into a signature style. I’ve finally discovered that I already knew what I liked. I know what looks good on me. I know what is comfortable (and what is too comfortable). I know, basically, what makes me feel like me, and not like I’m trying to zip up a Somebody Else Suit 2 sizes too small.

First and foremost is the Black Dress. It is my closest ally. I could -okay, I do- own an entire wardrobe of black dresses: linen for the summer, to be worn with sandals and minimal accessories; cotton and jersey for the cooler months, with leggings and assorted boots, maybe my leopard print cardigan or a gorgeous trench coat. But this is not an homage to the LBD (that’s a little black dress to fashion neophytes and men). Those are for evening. I wear them during the day all the time, which I’m sure would be enough to make a southern belle swoon, but this is California and convention has very little to do with fashion around here.

What I’m talking about is all of the components that add up to a style that’s uniquely mine. Its about the staples of my wardrobe… the pieces that transcend trend and season and ever-evolving fashion logic and lore. This is a tribute to the things that make me feel lovely, comfortable and confident; the outfits that shouldn’t work but do, because they’re all me: my trademark pieces, my signature look. Its what would happen if some Goths got a tan, the country club set was forced to shop at Target and all the world’s pin-up girls gained 30 pounds and found religion, and then they all got together to open a boutique especially for me.

In it you would find lots of black tops and bottoms in addition to the ubiquitous black dress. And a very few pairs of jeans that fit like they were made for me.

But my true love is accesories. My shelves are heavily laden with vintage red clutches, horn-rimmed glasses and giant tortoiseshell shades. There are the pearls. Strands and strands of pearls (real, fake, old or new) and for contrast there’s the chunky jewelry; my favorite pieces manage to marry black metal and chains with feminine ribbons and bows. There are peep-toe pumps and flats -I even had a tattoo on my foot placed specifically to compliment the low cut shapes or the quintessential pin-up girl shoe. And there are black boots in every shape style and height you can imagine. There are trenchcoats and knee-skimming sweaters and of course my trademark leopard print cardigan.

And while not everything I wear falls under these categories or descriptions, there is a sensibility and feeling that is evident in every piece of clothing that I mindfully purchase, and the end result is almost always a style that looks like me.

The beauty of having a signature style (besides making gift-buying easier on your friends and family) is that fashion “rules” get to take a backseat to my personal style. It doesn’t have to be trendy. You might like it, but you probably wouldn’t wear it. And that’s okay, because it’s my look and not yours. What I find now when I venture out into the microcosms that succeed high school and college is that I do belong with those kids with style because I have found my own version of the unselfconscious artful outsider. There never was a secret handshake. The only secret was being comfortable in my own skin. And four inch heels.


Nanc said...

You might as well have written this on a LBD, it's so you! Having known you through those hippie, hemp, combat boot phases..."you've come a long way, baby!"

Anonymous said...

Well, I have always loved your personal style. AND your great, fabulous hair. So shiny and bouncy. I remember first meeting you... in an Interior Design class ;) and you had your signature jean skirt on... I'll never forget. I think you told me that day that you didn't need to make any more new friends, but that you could tell that you and I were destined for each other... LOL!!! I think you know who I am ;)

Sammy said...

It would be great if more people could learn to put away their "Somebody Else Suit." Haha, great blog!

Anonymous said...

The Artful Outsider. I think you've coined a useful term. Great post.


Anonymous said...

Great blog! Bring on the leopard print and pearls!
I wish you could turn into a little fairy, travel back in time, and whisper it to my poor misguided 17 year old self. Barring that selfish wish coming true, I'd hope for you to be able to scream it from the rooftops for all the 20 something year old women out there making the rest of us as uncomfortable as they must feel, trying unsuccessfully to fit into someone else's skin suit.

Anonymous said...

That is so you! You are one of a kind, what courage to be your own person, and not be taken in by what others "think we should be" You are beautiful inside and out. You should post some of those beautiful photos of the mentioned time, and your "hats" What class! Great Blog!!!

Anonymous said...

That is so you! You are one of a kind, what courage to be your own person, and not be taken in by what others "think we should be" You are beautiful inside and out. You should post some of those beautiful photos of the mentioned time, and your "hats" What class! Great Blog!!!